Venezuelan Daily Brief

Published in association with The DVA Group and The Selinger Group, the Venezuelan Daily Brief provides bi-weekly summaries of key news items affecting bulk commodities and the general business environment in Venezuela.

Friday, December 1, 2017

December 01, 2017

International Trade


Cargo arrivals:

  • 30,000 tons of yellow corn at Puerto Cabello port, aboard the POLA UGLICH
  • 11,697 tons of food for the government CLAP distribution program, at La Guaira port, aboard the VIKING MERLIN, from Mexico.
More in Spanish: (Bolipuertos,; El Universal;


Logistics & Transport


Venezuelan airline barred from European Union skies

Venezuela's AVIOR Airlines has been banned from European Union skies after a commission determined it no longer meets international safety standards, another blow to troubled nation's already beleaguered flight industry. The European Commission announced Thursday that AVIOR had been added to a list of international airlines prohibited from flying within the union because the European Aviation Safety Agency detected "unaddressed safety deficiencies." The Venezuelan airline is one of a handful still offering international flight destinations as major carriers like United and Delta halt operations in the crisis-ridden nation. Air carriers have cited financial and safety concerns as reasons for suspending service. AVIOR operates flights within Venezuela, throughout Latin America and to Miami, Florida, and lists an office location in Madrid on its website. The airline is certified under U.S. federal aviation regulations and Venezuela remains in good standing with the International Aviation Safety Assessment, the Federal Aviation Administration's program to determine whether foreign countries provide sufficient safety and oversight of airlines that fly to the U.S. (Fox News:


Oil & Energy


New oil czar head blames oil woes on 'sabotage', claims Venezuela can do without sales to US

Venezuela's oil industry is being sabotaged, the general newly installed as the crisis-hit country's oil minister and head of state crude giant PDVSA said Thursday. "We have managed to arrest 20 people involved in a plan to sabotage production," General Manuel Quevedo told reporters at a meeting of OPEC in Vienna that agreed to extend established oil production cuts through all of 2018. "This sabotage plan is aimed at achieving a repeat of 2002-3 when there was an attempted coup against [Hugo] Chavez," the former president, Quevedo said. "This time there is a whole plan to hit [oil] production." Quevedo also floated the possibility that Venezuela would stop selling oil to the United States, echoing comments from President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday. "We want to sell oil to the American people but if their government doesn't want to help its people, then we can easily switch to other markets," Quevedo said. The general also claimed that Venezuela has funds to meet its current obligations and said delays in payments were due to bank “maneuvers” as part of a “conspiracy” to block and delay payments under US orders. (AFP/Jamaica Observer:; and more in Spanish: (Noticiero Venevisión,; Agencia Venezolana de Noticias;; El Universal,;


CITGO names new CEO as arrests in Venezuela continue

Houston-based CITGO Petroleum officially named a cousin of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as its new chief executive Thursday as a purge of Venezuela's energy establishment reached the top tiers of government. Asdrubal Chavez, a former oil minister, was installed as the CITGO CEO following the arrests last week of CITGO's previous CEO and five other executives on corruption charges. In announcing the new chief executive, CITGO did not mention last week's arrests nor did it note Chavez's relationship to the late president. As for Chavez, he is a politician and former Venezuelan oil minister. CITGO declined to comment on whether he will live in Houston or lead the company from Venezuela. He's a 1979 chemical engineering graduate from the Universidad de los Andes who started his career at the El Palito Refinery in Venezuela. He worked his way up to vice president of refining at PDVSA, and then to oil minister from 2014 to the beginning of 2016. (The Houston Chronicle:


ExxonMobil helping Guyana pay legal fees in World Court Guyana-Venezuela border case

The United States oil giant has agreed to help pay Guyana’s legal fees, amounting to just over US$ 15 million, for taking of the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy to the World Court, despite a denial earlier Thursday. High-level government sources said that the so-called US$ 20 million signing bonus from Exxon “is to assist with the border process as the UN Secretary General has promised to refer the case to the World Court in about four weeks. Guyana’s Finance Minister, Winston Jordan one week ago denied that government had raked in US$ 20 million from ExxonMobil as a signing bonus. Earlier Thursday, Minister of State Joseph Harmon said: “in the event that the matter goes to the ICJ, the legal fees would be paid by the Government of Guyana.” Sources, however, said that the government is “garnering all the necessary resources” to prepare for the demarcation of the border with Venezuela given numerous threats to the country’s national security. (Demerara Waves:


PDVSA's Amuay refinery halts distillation unit

Venezuela’s 645,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Amuay refinery has halted its distillation unit No. 5 due to an operational problem, union leader and opposition activist Ivan Freites said on Thursday. The 955,000 bpd Paraguana Refining Center, which includes Amuay and the neighboring 310,000 bpd Cardon refinery, is currently producing at 27% of its installed capacity, Freites said, citing an internal report. (Reuters,


Economy & Finance


In Venezuela, the dollar’s gained 10,768% in just the last two years

The speed at which the Venezuelan bolivar is sinking against the dollar is hard to fathom. It’s one of those rare market moves that’s so crazy that analyzing it from the perspective of the declining currency feels inadequate. That’s because the value of a currency, of course, can’t fall more than 99.99%. Gains, on the other hand, are infinite. And so, it’s more illuminating to examine the move from the angle of the dollar’s advance against the bolivar. In the black market -- the place where most Venezuelans acquire dollars in the authoritarian country -- the U.S. currency has risen 135% this month alone. To date this year, it’s up 2,959%. And over the past two years, it’s climbed 10,768%. For some context, bitcoin, the cryptocurrency whose rally has mesmerized investors the world over, is up about 2,500% over that time. (That advance, it should be noted, is against the dollar, meaning bitcoin’s rally versus the bolivar is astronomical.) The bolivar traded at 96,794 per dollar as of late Wednesday. It had started the week at 82,186 per dollar and hovered under 10,000 per dollars as recently as late July. The official government-set exchange rate, a largely irrelevant number at this point, is 10 bolivars per dollar. The situation has become so out of control that some within Maduro’s constituent assembly -- including a former trade and investment minister -- have even begun talking about something that’s long been taboo for them: the idea of re-implementing some free-market policies. (Bloomberg,


Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, has been rendered basically worthless

ATMs here now have a daily limit of 10,000 bolivars, which is just about enough to buy a few cups of coffee. Sometimes, bank tellers will only pay you half of your pension and suggest that you come back later for the rest. State spending in the communist state has been seen as out-of-control and other policies have simply led to hyperinflation. A vicious cycle has occurred where there is now not enough cash in circulation to keep up with the rapidly rising prices. Jean Paul Leidenz, a senior economist at the Caracas think tank ECOANALITICA commenting on the worthless currency said there are about 13 billion banknotes in circulation in Venezuela.  However, around half of these are 100-bolivar notes which equates to a fraction of one pence. The central bank has introduced higher-denomination bill such as the 100,000-bolivar note. These new banknotes are printed in Europe and the government lacks the money to import enough of them to meet demand. Leidenz added: "Prices are doubling around every two months. So, at that rate of price increases you can’t keep up with inflation even if you start importing bills." (The Express:


Maduro’s National Constitutional Assembly approved the 2018 budget for VEB 36 billion

The pro-regime National Constitutional Assembly has approved Venezuela’s budget for fiscal 2018 for VEB 36 billion, which is more than US$ 10 billion at the highest official exchange rate. The budget was presented by Executive Vice President Tareck el Assami, bypassing Venezuela’s elected National Assembly which has been held in contempt and stripped of legislative Powers by the government controlled Supreme Tribunal. (Noticiero Venevisión,; El Universal,;


Venezuela creditors meet with Rotshchild, Cleary in London

Investment bank Rothschild is participating in a Venezuelan creditors' meeting in London to discuss how to handle the country's request to restructure some US$ 60 billion in outstanding bonds. The meeting, organized by UK-based hedge fund MACROSYNERGY Partners, will aim to discuss a likely path forward on debt issued by the government and state-owned oil company PDVSA, as well as whether to form an informal, ad-hoc bondholder committee. Among those in attendance will be lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, including Lee Buchheit, a partner who specializes in sovereign debt restructurings. Rothschild, the Paris-based global advisory firm whose specialties include debt restructuring, is also participating. The meeting is one of the most concrete signs yet that holders of Venezuelan bonds are meeting with each other to strategize on how to handle the country's deeply distressed bonds. While President Nicolas Maduro has said Venezuela will keep servicing its obligations for now, bondholders ranging from hedge funds to emerging market funds are starting to lay the foundations for what could be a bitter showdown over this nation's debt down the road. (Reuters,


Tea Party Koch brothers sue Venezuela over US$ 400 million expropriation

After years of litigation at the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes arbitration panel (ICSID), the Koch Brothers -- stalwarts of the Tea Party -- have filed suit in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., to collect a US$ 409 million ICSID award against Venezuela. The late President Hugo Chavez expropriated the fertilizer and chemical plant FERTINITRO in 2010. Koch had a 25% interest in the venture through its Swiss subsidiary Koch Minerals. Another Koch Swiss entity Koch Nitrogen International had contracts to buy the resulting ammonia and urea at a discount because of the investment as part of the deal and the investment was protected by a bilateral Swiss-Venezuela Investment Treaty. The Koch entities filed suit against Venezuela at ICSID in 2011 after not being compensated for the expropriation and the three judge ICSID arbitration panel awarded Koch US$ 409 million. In addition to the award, the panel also awarded legal fees of US$ 17 million and ICSID fees of US$ 629,000 to Koch, a sign that Venezuela was clearly at fault. Koch is a closely-held corporation owned by the Koch brothers, stalwart funders of the right-wing US Tea-Party. Costing US$ 1.1 billion dollars to build, FERTINITRO ranks as one of the world’s largest nitrogen-based fertilizer plants, with daily production capacity of 3,600 metric tons of ammonia and 4,400 metric tons of urea. Until the Chavez government expropriated it in October of 2010, FERTINITRO was owned 25% by a Koch subsidiary, 35% by Venezuela state petrochemical company PEQUIVEN, 20% by a Snamprogetti subsidiary of Italian oil company ENI, and 10% by Venezuela's private food and beverage giant Polar. (Latin American Herald Tribune:


Some Venezuelan socialists are pushing for free-market reforms

As Venezuela’s economy sinks deeper into depression some ruling socialist party members are raising their voices to call for reforms. A closed-door debate is occurring inside the country’s all-powerful constituent assembly, the body stacked only with pro-government lawmakers created in August to sideline the opposition-controlled congress, on what to do with the economy. Perhaps one of the loudest voices calling for change is Jesus Faria, a former trade and investment minister who’s now a member of the constituent assembly. He has been urging the government to permit a free-floating exchange rate where the forces of the market set the best price for the bolivar. While he believes other stronger and subsidized exchange rates to shield the poor should be kept, it’s an odd public posture for a self-proclaimed Marxist economist who was a young university student in East Berlin when it was still under Soviet rule. Maduro has resisted calls to devalue the official rates or significantly cut subsidies on everything from gasoline to utility rates and has become infamous for saying he’s going to make important economic announcements without following through. While he added denominations of new bills of as large as 100,000 bolivars it’s done nothing to address the problems. The most significant economic adjustment he’s taken to save dwindling cash for debt payments was to curtail imports for everything from food to medicine and capital goods. The government fears that liberalization will lead to the depletion of the foreign reserves. Francisco Rodriguez, chief economist at TORINO Capital who himself has made recommendations to the government on economic reforms in recent years, said that while discussions to loosen currency controls aren’t new, they’ve become louder. (Bloomberg,


Politics and International Affairs


Venezuelan negotiations resume as financial pressures mount

Venezuela's socialist government and its opposition will seek today to jumpstart negotiations on resolving the country's economic and political crisis, pressured by international sanctions and a looming presidential election. The planned two-day session in the Dominican Republic is to be the first formal talks since anti-government protests collapsed in July with a toll of more than 120 dead and thousands detained. Given the scant results of previous attempts at dialogue, including talks last year mediated by the Vatican, expectations are low. But some analysts expressed optimism a deal could be struck because the cash-strapped administration of President Nicolas Maduro is desperately looking for support as it tries to refinance Venezuela's huge foreign debt. That will give the opposition a foothold to press their demands, analysts said. Just the fact that the two sides agreed to talk is a sign of progress. Still smarting from their belief the government committed fraud to pull off an unexpected victory in recent gubernatorial elections, several opposition parties are boycotting the talks as well as this month's mayoral elections. They say such things legitimize Maduro's "dictatorship." The hardliners have won a sympathetic ear from international critics, including Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States, who this week said that "if I were Venezuelan I wouldn't go to the dialogue." Reflecting those tensions, the opposition delegation led by National Assembly President Julio Borges will for the first time include representatives from civil society groups. He said that would add transparency to the closed-door talks. Borges said they will repeat longstanding demands that the government release dozens of political prisoners recognize the National Assembly's authority and allow humanitarian aid. And the opposition will push for guarantees that next year's the presidential election will be free and fair, he said. "We want Venezuelans, with their vote, to be the ones who change this government," he said earlier this week at a news conference to outline goals for the talks. Lending urgency to the talks is Venezuela's spiraling financial crisis. The U.S. Treasury Department has said that U.S. sanctions could ease if any debt restructuring deal was endorsed by Venezuela's legislature, whose authority has been gutted by a pro-government assembly formed to rewrite the constitution. Also providing an extra nudge will be the presence as observers of foreign ministers from a half dozen Latin American countries, including two of Maduro's staunchest leftist allies, Bolivia and Nicaragua, and two harsh critics, Mexico and Chile. Chilean Foreign Minister Herald Muñoz has confirmed his nation will participate as an observer in these talks, but warned that Chile does not want them to be a “sham”, and that “if this were the case it would clearly make no sense to continue that kind of meeting”. Colombia’s Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín also said her country has reservations about the new negotiations that she called complicated because President Maduro wants to cling to power despite “his people’s suffering”. She added that arriving at decisions will be “very difficult due to radical positions and a divided opposition in the face of a government that is strong despite economic sanctions”. Former Lara state governor Henri Falcón of the Avanzada Progresista party has said they support the talks but will not attend because they were not invited, and complained that four opposition parties are taking the dominant role. Vicente Díaz, a former member of the National Elections Council, who will attend on behalf of the Democratic Unity coalition, has warned that “the government will be the one to blame if these talks deadlock”. (Fox News:; and more in Spanish: (El Universal,;;;


Maduro regime arrests ex-oil bosses for graft in widening purge

Venezuelan authorities on Thursday arrested two once-powerful officials who had run the oil ministry and state energy company PDVSA as part of a deepening industry purge also seen as a power play by leftist President Nicolas Maduro. In the highest-profile arrests to date, engineer Eulogio Del Pino and chemist Nelson Martinez were detained early on Thursday on accusations of graft and seeking to sabotage the nation’s ailing energy industry, prosecutor Tarek Saab said in a televised speech. He accused Del Pino of participating in a US$ 500 million corruption and sabotage scheme at the PETROZAMORA joint venture with Russia’s GAZPROMBANK and said Martinez had allowed a poor refinancing deal for Venezuela’s CITGO Petroleum Corp, a U.S.-based refiner that he used to lead, to go ahead without government approval. Videos during the press conference showed armed guards in balaclavas knocking on the officials’ doors, taking them from their homes in handcuffs and pajamas. The government will seek to seize the assets of corrupt officials abroad, Saab said, including mansions and yachts. Del Pino, in video shot before his detention and published on his Twitter account on Thursday, said he had been a “victim” of an “unjustified attack.” He said he would exercise his right to self-defense but did not elaborate on who ordered his arrest in the early hours of Thursday. Some 65 executives have been detained so far, panicking PDVSA workers, depriving Venezuela’s oil industry of much of its top brass, and stalling decision-making in the company overseeing the world’s biggest crude reserves. The opposition dismisses the probe as a power struggle within Maduro’s inner circle, noting that the industry has been under tight control of the ruling Socialist Party since early in the late President Hugo Chavez’s 14-year rule. They say authorities ridiculed and dismissed a report last year by the opposition-run Congress, which concluded that some US$ 11 billion went missing at PDVSA over a decade when Del Pino and Martinez were both influential officials. They say Maduro is sidelining influential and capable figures within his party who he thinks could become rivals for the presidency. Both Del Pino and Martínez are proteges of former oil czar Rafael Ramirez, who headed PDVSA and served as oil minister for a decade until becoming Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations in 2014. Ramirez is believed to be the ultimate target of the PDVSA housecleaning. “It looks like a political move. On the one hand giving more power to the military that sustain him and putting a loyalist at the helm, on the other eroding a rival’s power. But it would be very costly for the industry,” says Francisco J. Monaldi, a fellow in Latin American energy policy at the Baker Institute in Houston, noting that the “military have overseen other areas in which corruption is rampant.”


… but the top target on Maduro's purge list is holed up in Manhattan

But the one Maduro wants to nab the most remains free: Rafael Ramirez, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations. The two have been intense rivals for years, dating to the days when the firebrand revolutionary Hugo Chavez was alive and rapidly converting Venezuela into a socialist economy. Back then, Ramirez was energy minister, overseeing the world’s largest oil reserves, while Maduro served most of that era as Venezuela’s foreign minister. The vast bulk of the executives imprisoned by Maduro’s forces are considered disciples or allies of Ramirez. The sense from Venezuelan watchers is that having successfully crushed the political opposition, Maduro is turning his attention to his enemies from within Chavismo as he prepares to run for re-election next year. Ramírez, who is thought to have had presidential ambitions, is struggling to survive after being fired from his job by Maduro and summoned back to Caracas from New York. In recent weeks he wrote online opinion articles criticizing PDVSA’s production slump and Maduro’s handling of the economy. According to press accounts, when Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza relayed the news of his firing to Ramírez over the phone Tuesday night, the ambassador retorted that only Maduro himself can fire him. Arreaza flew to New York on Wednesday, ostensibly to attend a Thursday meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, but Caracas outlets reported he came to do the firing in person. While Maduro is Ramirez’s boss and can simply fire him if he so chooses, such a move is fraught with risk. In recent tweets and op-eds in a pro-government policy discussion website, Ramirez has pushed backed at his critics and at claims that he has broken ranks. “I demand respect. I cannot accept being discredited or called names simply because I give my opinion while completing my revolutionary duty,” he wrote. “I’m in complete exercise of my loyalty to Chavez.” By now, “Ramirez has accumulated enough money and influence to become a significant competitor against Maduro,” said Angel Alvarez, a political analyst and former professor at Central University of Venezuela. “Beating Ramirez is a way to end the financing of a possible non-Maduro candidate.” As U.N. ambassador, Ramírez has enjoyed diplomatic immunity—until now. A U.N. spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said the world body was not notified of any personnel changes in the Venezuelan representation; but Ramírez was a no-show at a dinner gathering where he’d previously confirmed attendance, and failed to appear at a General Assembly annual event he never skips. Saab did not mention Ramirez by name, although both Maduro and top officials have recently repeatedly referred to his governance as oil boss as a time when “mafias” were formed and executives came to think of themselves as the owners of Venezuela’s reserves. Authorities appear to be seeking information on Ramirez from Del Pino and Martinez as splits widen in the Socialist Party. Rather than returning to Caracas, Ramirez could instead just walk over to federal prosecutors’ offices as other ex-Chavistas have in recent years to share details of murky business transactions that have raised suspicion in the U.S. A Venezuelan diplomat said Ramírez is trying to use his deep knowledge of the way Venezuela does business as leverage to save his UN position, referring to oil agreements between PDVSA, and companies in Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua and elsewhere. Now, the diplomat added, he’ll lean on those countries to pressure Maduro not to fire him. If he loses the fight, the diplomat said, Ramírez may flee to Havana, Moscow or even Qatar, where he has a lot of contacts. Yet another diplomat cited Caracas sources who intimated Ramírez may already be working a deal with U.S. authorities who have implicated him in illegal activities, to inform on higher-ups and receive asylum in the United States. Ramirez’s next moves were not immediately clear.


… and Maduro´s reelection plans are confirmed

Vice President Tareck El Aissami said on Wednesday that he hoped that Maduro will be re-elected in 2018, the clearest sign yet that the former bus driver will seek another term despite the deepening economic crisis. Amid chants of “Maduro, Maduro” from the crowd at a rally in the central state of Aragua ahead of the Dec. 10 municipal elections, the vice president lashed out at the opposition. “They embody individualism, hatred, intolerance, sectarianism, treason, corruption, looting, and black-marketeering,” he said, describing all opposition leaders as being cut from the same cloth and as “puppets of Trump” who take orders from the US Embassy. Speculation has been rising that Maduro may call elections for as early as March to take advantage of disarray within the opposition, which has been struggling to come up with a strategy to confront the president’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Experts say it’s a high-risk strategy for Maduro, who is under increasing international pressure as well as U.S. financial sanctions. Should Ramirez decide to turn to U.S. authorities for protection, as many expect, he could likely provide incriminating testimony on corruption at the highest levels of the system.

(Reuters,;;; Bloomberg,;; The Daily Beast:; BBC News:; The Washington Post:; The Wall Street Journal:; Oil Price:; The New York Times:; Latin American Herald Tribune,


Ledezma asks Trump to double down on sanctions

Antonio Ledezma who fled to Spain and was recently ousted as mayor of Caracas following two years of house arrest on charges of conspiracy against the government is now on a tour of Washington, D.C.’s political corridors. Now free to travel, Ledezma visited the head of the Organization of American States, gave speeches at think tanks, and made media appearances in a bid to call attention to the plight of a nation he said is being held hostage. Ledezma’s presence in D.C.’s power-adjacent circles signals a growing interest in what’s happening in Venezuela, a nation Florida Senator Marco Rubio has referred to as a “lost democracy”. Ledezma says Venezuela’s economic woes will never be adequately addressed if Maduro remains in the highest office. He says any potential wealth the nation has due to oil production is immediately siphoned off to Cuba, and has called on US President Donald Trump to double down on sanctions on members of the Maduro regime. (Red State:; and more in Spanish: (El Universal,


Venezuela and Russia teamed up to push pro-Catalan fake news

At the height of the Catalan separatist crisis, analysis of more than 5 million messages about Catalonia posted on social networks between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, shows that only 3% come from real profiles outside the Russian and Venezuelan cybernetworks. These are the conclusions of a report prepared by Javier Lesaca, visiting scholar at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. And there’s more: 32% of the messages investigated came from Venezuela—accounts linked to the regime of Nicolás Maduro. 30% were born from anonymous accounts exclusively dedicated to contents of the Russian state media RT and Sputnik; 25% came from bots; and 10% from the official accounts of the two Russian media mentioned. On the same dates, the geolocation data offered by social networks such as Twitter or Facebook show similar results: Excluding Spain, 13% of those who shared RT’s information about the illegal referendum in Catalonia were in Venezuela. Based on these data, the newspaper El País concluded on Nov. 11 that, the “Russian network used Venezuelan accounts to deepen the Catalan crisis.” Hours later the government of Spain claimed that it has well-founded information that confirms many messages with a Catalan secessionist bias in social networks comes from “Russian territory.” The evident purpose: to undermine European as well as Spanish unity. The possibility of Venezuelan involvement was left open. (The Daily Beast:


The following brief is a synthesis of the news as reported by a variety of media sources. As such, the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Duarte Vivas & Asociados and The Selinger Group.